Prince Philip getting ferried out to the Grumman Goose floatplane in a little boat after his helicopter flight to Kitimat was cancelled due to an obscured heavy cloud in the pass. (Kitimat Museum and Archives photo)

Prince Philip getting ferried out to the Grumman Goose floatplane in a little boat after his helicopter flight to Kitimat was cancelled due to an obscured heavy cloud in the pass. (Kitimat Museum and Archives photo)

It’s Our Heritage – Kitimat’s First Royal

Prince Phillip: Kitimat’s First Royal

Phillip Mountbatten, was born in Greece in 1921. He was married in 1947 to Elizabeth Windsor the eldest daughter of King George VI. In 1952, with the death of King George, his wife Elizabeth became Queen, and Phillip resigned as a Royal Navy officer and gained the title, The Duke of Edinburgh. Phillip blessed our planet for nearly a century. He touched the lives of many, even here in the northwest of BC.

As the royal consort and husband to Queen Elizabeth, Phillip had many royal duties. In August of 1954, he travelled quite willingly, to our emerging community and the satellite community of Kemano. The Prince, like many people world-wide was interested in the Kitimat/Kemano project, which in National Geographic was described as “Canada’s Aluminum Titan”

Phillip was keen to view the nuclear bomb proof power house in Mount DuBose at Kemano. He was quite curious as to how the smelter and emerging community of Kitimat was progressing. On the morning of August 4th, the handsome 33 year old, ex navy officer Phillip arrived in the northwest. As he disembarked from the Grumman Goose Mallard float plane, the HMCS Ontario, especially in Kemano, for the occasion, sounded a gun salute.

Both the Kemano and Kitimat portions of his visit were as expected, heavily scripted and planned. His Kemano time was focused on the impenetrable power house with its eight recently activated generators.

Phillip was disappointed to have his helicopter flight to Kitimat, along the spectacular Kildala Pass, cancelled due to an obscured heavy cloud in the pass. Plan B was travelling to Kitimat via the Gardner Canal in the Grumman Goose float plane.

In the construction community at Hospital Beach they were ready, even if he arrived early and on the waterfront instead of the heli pad. Alcan had even spruced up the shabby-looking Delta King riverboat worker’s accommodation. It was reported the Delta King was only painted on the western side which was the face seen by the public. Preparation for the Royal visit had necessitated Alcan shipping in an expensive limousine. However, with changed logistics and a different arrival point, Phillip and his entourage just happily climbed aboard a waiting school bus. Phillip actually preferred that. He considered himself a regular guy and travelling 2nd class by bus made him closer to the community and workers.

Phillip, always a man with an opinion, did comment on the rather backwoods primitive appearance of the Smelterside community and its temporary plywood dwellings. At that point, there weren’t any developed streets and neighbourhoods in the townsite seven kilometers distant.

Prince Phillip fully participated in the official opening of Alcan’s massive smelter. At casting he was responsible for the pouring of the first Aluminum ingot. In actual fact, it was a rather staged performance. The actual first ingot was poured the day before on August 3rd and had been a rather dangerous operation with some spilled metal. Therefore, with Phillip on day 2 of the smelter’s production, the actual pouring and observation was done under more distant arrangements. He did however get to touch the cooled down, solidified first Ingot.

All in all, Phillip’s Kitimat/Kemano tour nearly 67 years ago was a grand success. The prince was able to provide Kitimat with a royal stamp of approval and the further attention of the world.

Story by – Walter Thorne

READ MORE: IT’S OUR HERITAGE – A Kitimat pioneer and extremely dedicated husband